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Outburst at ANC 2B’s February Meeting Almost Derails Comp Plan Resolution; Commissioners Ignored Signs Suggesting Greater Public Input Warranted

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the February 2019 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz

A shocking emotional outburst near the end of Dupont Circle ANC 2B’s February 12th monthly meeting looked, at first, as if it might derail one of the most significant, time-sensitive items on the evening’s agenda. But commissioners managed to regain their composure, conduct orderly public discussion, and vote to approve (five to one; Chairman Warwick not present) the ANC’s controversial resolution on amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Before the vote, however, the resolution itself was twice amended after an airing of strong public sentiment against parts of it. Most significantly, an entire section of the policy statement that would have recommended higher commercial and residential density zoning on a stretch of Connecticut Avenue, NW — beginning at the Q. Street entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro Station, north up to the intersection of Florida Avenue, NW — was deleted and set aside for consideration at a later time.

Pleas for neighborliness and action guided by the commonweal spurred a course correction away from chaos, though political blood was surely spilled. Chairman Warwick, whose tenure on the ANC has often been marred by what many have viewed as his own high-handed behavior toward fellow commissioners, was dealt a blindside that seemed both unfair and unwise if trust and community engagement were goals of the meeting.

Commissioner Ed Hanlon (ANC 2B09) opened discussion of the Comp Plan resolution with a blistering attack on Warwick’s ethics, claiming that his fellow commissioner harbored conflicts of interest because he works for real estate advisory firm HR&A. Hanlon demanded that Warwick recuse himself from the vote, saying, “Your employers are advising some very large real estate firms and very large commercial developers on aspects of the Comp Plan.”

Even if he wasn’t working directly with such clients, Hanlon insisted, Warwick’s job with the firm was a disqualifying appearance of conflict with his duties as chair of the ANC.

But Warwick refused to recuse himself or admit to any conflict or appearance of one. He told Hanlon bluntly, “it’s not true what you’re accusing me of.” He seized on the attendance at the meeting of Gottlieb Simon, director of DC’s Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, asking for an on-the-spot expert ethics opinion.

And Simon obliged, saying that conflict of interest law is “based upon prospective and not retrospective considerations.

“It’s based upon a commissioner having a direct and predictable financial interest or benefit from an action that they take,” Simon said, “not a speculative one.” In Warwick’s case, he said he found no such direct and predictable financial interest and therefore no reason for Warwick to recuse himself from the vote on the Comp Plan resolution.

Warwick, though, had had enough. Earlier in the evening, his longtime nemesis, Nick DelleDonne, chair of the Dupont East Civic Action Association (DECAA) announced that Warwick would be deposed the following day for a lawsuit filed by his group to stop development of the vacant lot that sits behind the Masonic Temple at 1733 16th Street, NW.

Speaking to Hanlon, Warwick said, “If this was an issue, I wish you would have raised this before. You had every opportunity.”

To the audience, Warwick said, “As I think about this myself, to be honest, I get nervous and scared.” He described his shock and embarrassment being served a subpoena at work to appear as a witness and be deposed for the DECAA lawsuit.

With that, Warwick designated Commissioner Kari Cunningham (ANC 2B07) to be acting chair for the rest of the meeting and he left the room.

What happened at the meeting probably should not have been a surprise. The Comp Plan resolution —- essentially, ANC 2B’s official public comment on the matter for the city’s Office of Planning (OP) — had Dupont Circle neighborhood listservs buzzing for weeks. It touches on many topics —- parking, transportation, pedestrian and bicycle safety —- that commissioners know stir the passion of many Dupont Circle residents. Hoping that they would just go along with the plan was, according to many, shortsighted and a missed opportunity to build common ground.

Indeed, when the February meeting agenda was released showing just 20 minutes –- and set for the the very end close to 10 p.m. — for public discussion of the resolution, on-line conversation indicated a serious miscalculation of public mood, especially given the controversy that has ensnared the Comp Plan update in general.

ANC 2B Commissioners have known for months that they would have until February 14th to submit their resolution to the OP (public comments were due January 10th). They had plenty of time for more hearings — an opportunity most other ANCs around the city availed themselves of.

ANC 2B Commissioners have known for months that they would have until February 14th to submit their resolution to the OP (public comments were due January 10th). They had plenty of time for more hearings — an opportunity most other ANCs around the city availed themselves of.

But ANC 2B cancelled a December 2019 hearing of its Transportation and Public Infrastructure Committee where the resolution could have been opened for public discussion. Then, ANC 2B04 Commissioner Aaron Landry cancelled a February 5th meeting of the Zoning, Preservation and Development Committee, of which he is chair —- what could have been yet another opportunity for public discussion of the ANC 2B Comp Plan resolution. And all along, Warwick has insisted that more hearings were unnecessary since constituents are able to contact commissioners via email or phone and that information is available on the ANC 2B website.

ANC 2B constituents at the meeting made clear where they stood, however. They supported additional language in the resolution proposed by Commissioner Mike Silverstein (ANC 2B06) that emphasized the need for affordable housing, recognition of past policies that led to racial and economic segregation and housing discrimination, and the toll of displacement.

But it was the zoning recommendation hit a raw nerve with many.

This matter already was highly controversial, especially with regard to the ANC’s proposed density increases to the categories of “High Density Commercial” & “High Density Residential”).

“People want more discussion about this high-density motion,” said one audience member, who echoed many others. One by one, they all delivered a similar message to commissioners: “I am asking you to open this up to more than 20 minutes of discussion before you vote.”

A chastened Landry revealed that the resolution’s now-deleted section on zoning density for Connecticut Ave., NW, was spurred in part by a recommendation he received in a letter from the Dupont Circle Business Improvement District. He said the BID’s. suggestion jibed with other input he was receiving from constituents and so he perhaps didn’t appreciate fully that wider discussion might be a good idea.

As Commissioner Silverstein put it, “We did not engage the neighborhood the way we should have.”

Copyright © 2020 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §§ 107 & 108 (“fair use”).